The United Nations' disarmament office and the International Committee of the Red Cross have each prepared kits to help countries join the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. By sharing these resources with decision makers in your government, you can prompt them to take action. The kits include useful summaries of the legal obligations under the treaty, as well as information on the technical steps required to sign and ratify the treaty.
- UN ratification kit (English | French)
- Red Cross ratification kit (Arabic | English | French | Russian | Spanish)
Signing the treaty
A country can sign the treaty in New York at any time. Signature is largely a symbolic act demonstrating support for the treaty, and does not mean that the country has formally consented to be legally bound by it. Many leaders opt to sign treaties during the high-level opening of the UN General Assembly held each September.
Under international law, a head of state (president), head of government (prime minister), or foreign minister has the automatic power to sign the treaty on behalf of his or her country. Any one of these individuals may also vest that power in another individual, such as the country's ambassador to the United Nations.
A decision to sign a treaty is typically taken by the executive branch of government. In many countries, the foreign ministry will review the treaty and the foreign minister will make a recommendation to the cabinet on whether to proceed with signature. The process for approving signature is usually much simpler than the process for ratifying a treaty.
Ratifying the treaty
The process of ratifying a treaty differs from one country to another. It usually involves a review of the treaty by relevant government departments, such as the foreign ministry, defence ministry, and attorney-general’s office, and approval by the legislature. However, in some countries, ratification is more straightforward, involving only the executive.
The final step in the ratification process for any country is to deposit an “instrument of ratification” with the UN secretary-general. This is a formal document signed by the head of state, head of government, or foreign minister declaring that the state consents to be legally bound by the treaty. It is deposited once all domestic processes have been completed.
By ratifying the treaty promptly, your country can contribute to the treaty’s timely entry into force. For most countries that do not possess nuclear weapons, ratification should not present major challenges, as they have already made a legal undertaking never to acquire such weapons. Many countries have also supported a prohibition on nuclear weapons at a regional level by joining a nuclear-weapon-free zone.